“Everything is only for a day,” Marcus Aurelius writes in book IV of the Meditations, “both that which remembers and that which is remembered.” He means don’t worry about your historical reputation, because the people who know it will all die, too. Still, among the living, it’s hard not to hope posterity will like us. I think of my grandparents’ segment of history—from the Depression through fascism into boom decades culminating in the hypertrophied 1980s—and I am overwhelmed with admiration. Then I try to come up with titles for our chapter of the history books. “Deficits and Decay” seems toppable. “Where Animals Went” would work in a work of popular nonfiction. Today is Friday, and history might remember us as people who didn’t think about the future, but not in the good way like Marcus Aurelius wants. Won’t you chortle at the boners with me?
Thanks to history (753 BC—1992 AD), we know that cultures rise and fall. Ancient Rome, for example, lasted about 1100 years, and some of those years were better than others. In his classic treatise on the decline of the Roman empire, Gibbon observes that foreign wars made the army more powerful than the rest of the state, whose administrators became corrupt as, among the ordinary people, “bizarreness masqueraded as creativity.” Fortunately for us, that’s not happening to America. Foreign wars have made heroes of everyone connected to our military, and our public servants would never put money ahead of the duties of their offices. As long as we can stamp out Tim & Eric Awesome Show: Great Job!, we should be fine. Today is Friday, and America has achieved in a mere 250 years what took Rome a millennium. Won’t you bask in the twilight of empire with me?